The world's next generation of leaders in space exploration will assemble at NASA Ames this summer for, among other things, discussions about whether humans should settle in caves on Mars.
The International Space University, or ISU, is based in France and has set up shop in a different location around the world every summer for the last 23 years. Last summer classes were held in Barcelona and before that, Beijing.
Since 1987 the university's influence has spread worldwide, and Arthur C. Clarke, author of "2001: A Space Odyssey," was chancellor until 2004. In 2000, the ISU came to Chile, and the Chilean government would later create a space program patterned after students' recommendations.
"It can have quite an impact," said Donald James, a longtime Ames education director who is now the ISU project manager. "We're very excited about what's going to come out of it." NASA Ames will be the ISU's first non-university host.
"We're not a university but we felt we had the facilities to host this," James said.
On June 29, opening ceremonies will be held at the Center for the Performing Arts on Castro Street. About 130 students from around the world will attend, many of whom already have graduate degrees or work for space organizations.
"There will be international press coverage," said Nadine Levin, assistant city manager. "Apparently they do some real forward thinking about lots of issues."
City officials, believing the university and its guests will generate plenty of sales tax, have decided to spend $1,200 hanging event banners from light poles up and down Castro Street during the nine-week program. The city will also contribute use of the Center for the Performing Arts for the opening ceremonies.
Throughout the summer at NASA Ames, classes and projects will be aimed at students from around the world and are multidisciplinary.
"You don't come here to learn more about mechanical engineering if you're a mechanical engineer," James explained.
Ames has selected as a main topic of discussion whether humans could live in caves on Mars, James said. The caves are considered an alternative to building new structures on the cold, windy and sun-scorched planet.
"It's not science fiction," James said. "Some researchers believe if we ever settle on Mars we might want to settle in caves rather than build habitats in which to live. Mars is fairly cold, with cosmic rays and high winds. In caves you have natural protection."
James said sending human explorers to Mars won't happen for many years, "but we get the benefit of having very bright people look at this."